Cross-Currents: Rabbi Menken on abortion, LGBTQ and observant Jewry
September 27, 2021

by Rabbi Yaakov Menken, Cross-Currents

Briefly, before Yom Tov, some quick input into both recent guest contributions… because there is a relationship between them.

I. Abortion: I do not know the source for Rabbi Dr. Broyde’s claim that per Agudath Israel, “a fetus is not a person in the Jewish tradition.” I have not seen such a statement from the Agudah; on the contrary, to my reading the Agudah has said the opposite. And how could it be otherwise?

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מאי טעמיה דרבי ישמעאל? דכתיב שופך דם האדם באדם דמו ישפך איזהו אדם שהוא באדם הוי אומר זה עובר שבמעי אמו

What is the reasoning of the House of Rebbe Yishmael? It is written, “one who spills blood of man in man, his blood will be spilled” [Breishis 9:6]. Which is a man that is in man? They said, this is the fetus in the belly of its mother. [Sanhedrin 57b]

It is explicit in pesukim, in mishnayos, and in practical halacha that a fetus is a distinct human being for which one must be mechalel Shabbos. The reason why termination of pregnancy is permitted to save the mother’s life, even at the cost of the fetus’ life, is because “her life precedes his.” This clearly says that a fetal life is a life, and must be taken into account.

Before Coalition for Jewish Values issued its statement supporting the Texas Heartbeat legislation, I brought the question of this particular law and its practical implementation to a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah. [One need not speculate what would happen if the law provided for a “religious exemption:” Reform activist rabbis would pass them out like candy at an auf ruf, and they would not be alone.]

The situation we must consider is, as the questioner to the Agudah apparently wrote, “cases when a posek might see a threat to the life of a mother that isn’t so regarded by physicians.” This requires a situation in which a competent posek, who cherishes human life and is extremely averse to telling a woman to do something as traumatic as losing a baby, nonetheless rules that this is necessary to protect her life (including mental health)… and a physician cannot be found in the state of Texas, including those who performed abortions every “Montag un Donnershtag” (and Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, too, and probably weekends) until passage of this law, who agrees.

This is where the aforementioned Gadol agreed with our understanding that this is, in pragmatic terms, essentially inconceivable. And this brings us to a very important point: activists like to talk about worst-case scenarios, even impossible ones, while using them to justify a policy of “abortion on demand” (such as that which passed the House of Representatives last week).

There isn’t time at present to go into the multitudinous harms done to the fabric of society by the notion of “abortion on demand,” which actually go far beyond the fetal murder itself and callous attitude towards human life. It suffices to say that such a policy is utterly foreign to a Torah perspective on fetal life, as the Agudah has previously said, and that is why CJV viewed (and views) the Texas law as a step in the right direction.

II. LGBTQ+ “identity” and the frum community: There is one more piece to the LGBTQIA discussion which highlights a profound difference from mechalelei Shabbos, which goes beyond that which Rabbis Gordimer and Rosenthal have already said. I believe Rabbi Motzen misconstrues matters when he writes that he “would assume that the reason readers did not naturally think of this second category of people [those who go quietly about their lives, while violating Torah prohibitions] stems from a lack of interaction with anyone in this population.”

Indeed I think he has assumed incorrectly. There are two more salient reasons readers are not discussing those in the “everyone else” category. First of all, I am unaware of anyone researching those quietly living their lives, including quiet conversations with their rabbis that they were already having, to see whom we might exclude from having aliyos. So, of course, these individuals are not those about whom we are speaking. The second, and far more significant issue, is that the “LGBTQ+ community” is not merely “b’farhesya mamesh” (they call it “coming out”), but, regarding the activists as a group, is also engaged in a campaign to label every Torah-observant Jew (and others following our Torah’s guidance on these matters) a hateful, “phobic” individual for not agreeing with them.

According to the “Equality Act” passed by the House earlier this year, holding a traditional Jewish wedding (with a mechitza, in a catering hall) is a bias crime. Individual business owners have faced legal battles and been unjustly called bigoted for declining to provide their creative services to celebrate events that violate their religious conscience, although they happily provide service to anyone, regardless of race, orientation or anything else, for an event that accords with their religion. Meanwhile, of course, a coffee shop owner who refused to simply serve coffee, a commodity product, to members of a pro-life group, was celebrated by the LGBTQ+ community. If you think it’s the LGBTQ+ folks who face persecution, welcome to 5782.

No one suggests that we should have an environment where people faced with same sex attraction do not “feel comfortable enough to come forward,” meaning privately, to their rabbis. On the contrary, Rabbi Gordimer emphasized that “This is not an issue of dispute; individuals with SSA impulses and self-identity questions should of course privately seek and receive guidance from their rabbonim and rebbeim, as should everyone else with personal struggles and challenges.” Rabbi Motzen agrees that this issue isn’t “easily discussed from the pulpit,” meaning that there is clear guidance against it in the Gemara. So the way to do this is for every rabbi or rebbe to demonstrate welcome and concern towards every congregant or talmid, not tied to any particular issue. Would anyone disagree that this should already be the case, and indeed already is so, far more often than not?

In other words, to me, at least, it seems that Rabbi Motzen is advocating for “creating” an environment that we should expect every competent Rav or Rebbe to already have, implying incorrectly that Rabbi Gordimer does not share the view that such an environment should exist, and inadvertently granting credibility to bigoted assertions against us as a religious community. The major problem facing our community is not that there are people who need help with attractions and aren’t getting it. [I am not saying this phenomenon doesn’t exist. We have a lot of issues that need to be addressed.] The major problem is that we are all at risk of being labeled hateful “bigots” and our lifestyle criminalized, simply for endorsing Torah law.

No discussion of whether the approach taken by activists is actually correct and compassionate is tolerated. What you are permitted to read must be curated to exclude any material that questions the accepted narrative. Amazon refuses to sell you a book called When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment, by Dr. Ryan Anderson, because, Amazon says, it has “chosen not to sell books that frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness.” [This misstates the book’s thesis, but this is besides the point.] The equally woke American Booksellers Association called it a “serious, violent [sic] incident” to have shared with subscribers a copy of Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters by Abigail Shrier.

Everyone understands that phenomena such as same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria cause psychological distress, and have a direct and ongoing impact upon mental health. We also know that psychotherapists have made great strides helping people to quell many different sorts of unwanted feelings, and to be more comfortable with their life circumstances. We regard psychotherapy as a great benefit to a great many people, in any area.

With one notable exception: LGBTQ+. According to what we are now told, LGBTQ+ is both innate and immune to treatment, and to believe otherwise, much less attempt to provide such help, is evil. Per the new rules, it is wrong to help a religious person quell feelings of same-sex attraction. On the contrary, LGBTQ+—including both same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria—is an unchangeable “identity” whereas religion is an ideology, and thus subject to change. Thus the only acceptable course for the psychologist to follow is to counsel the individual to change (“mollify“) his or her religious views, and the correct course of treatment for dysphoria includes surgical and chemical disruption of the body’s natural structure. One is not permitted to question whether these are the best course of action for any individual; there are no exceptions. I know I wrote “welcome to 5782” above, but perhaps the year in question is 1984.

These positions are not merely incompatible with Judaism, but there is compelling evidence that they are not the course of action that truly compassionate people, not blinded by a new agenda of “progressivism,” would take. But, as already said, this is evidence that they would prefer you not read.

A final, salient data point for consideration: a young child with autism returned to therapy after COVID’s shutdown equipped with a new gender. For comparison, be aware that a young child with autism is, for the sake of their well-being, not permitted to determine what he or she wants for lunch. Is the problem with this situation that the family’s rabbi isn’t endorsing the child’s decision?

So again, we have a situation where activists are claiming that synagogues are not accepting of people with private, personal struggles, and even failings, which they do not share publicly. In reality, groups are actively declaring and promoting a lifestyle at odds with Torah, criminalizing psychological treatment at odds with their new truth, and castigating those who follow the Torah’s guidance as “phobic” bigots. We need to look past the narratives and focus upon the real issues at hand, while of course showing compassion for each individual and his or her unique situation, as in every area of life.

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